We've had our share of interesting rodent encounters on the road but this morning easily topped them all. While groping around for my shoes at 4am to go to the bathroom I felt something… furry? A few months ago this might well have scared the bejesus out of me. No longer. In my half-awake daze I mumbled our time honored mantra: "it's just nature" and started looking for a headlamp. Once I'd found it, I curiously poked my head out of our warm, cozy tent and found this:
!!!! I'm pretty sure this encounter is featured in at least one scary campfire story. My next course of action was to get the camera and wake Tara (the photo above was taken later when it got light out). We both felt bad for the not-so-little guy who must've been very, very cold. Tara handed me her shoes so I could use them instead and we let him be.
A few hours later we got up for real and he was still there! I poked him in the side a few times but he didn't seem to care. Suddenly the sad truth dawned on me: he crawled into my shoe to die. I tried my best to urge him out by tugging on his tail and shaking him gently but he wouldn't budge. In the end I scooped him out and put him in a sunny spot with some asiago cheese. His breathing was pretty shallow. When we left camp to head down the road I'm pretty sure he'd shuffled off his mortal coil. Poor little guy.
Today was full of surprises; a few kilometers into our ride Tara yelled for me to stop because she'd found a load of perfectly good eggplants on the side of the road. Upon further investigation she also discovered a mountain of fresh, discarded basil that would have cost a small fortune in a grocery store back home! No matter how full our panniers are we can always make room for free food!
A little further on we passed a nice looking Chinese restaurant (which stuck out like a sore thumb in the dreary area) and almost kept riding. We'd been craving good chinese food for ages so we decided to stop in and see what the menu looked like. To our delight, everything was very reasonably priced; appetizers were 1-3, main dishes 2-5 and desserts 2-3. Thanks to a generous donation from Murray Snowden we were able to enjoy five courses of what could easily be the best Chinese food we've ever had. Even after factoring several months of craving into our verdict, no Chinese food either of us can recall comes close to what we ate today.
We started with fried wontons dipped in sweet and sour sauce:
Then we shared a tasty eggdrop soup with LOTS of real egg:
Followed shortly by perfectly crisp chicken fried rice:
Stir-fried lo mein noodles too:
Our main dishes were sweet and sour chicken and lemon chicken. The batter was incredible and the chicken was really good (not rubbery and tasteless like so many Chinese places):
When we were through with our main courses we were both stuffed but because everything they'd put in front of us was so good we decided to spring for desert too. Tara got fried bananas and I got fried apples in home-made caramel sauce.
When we were done with our fried food extravaganza we both felt a satisfaction that is usually relegated to memories of eating in America. Ridiculously well-fed, we went to the counter to pay our bill and one of the the two women working gave Tara a very sparkly hair barrette with ribbons on it. Neither of us is sure why the gift was bestowed upon her, but Tara thanked her graciously (Tara says she hasn't seen anything like it since the fourth grade).
While we were paying we struck up conversation using our usual combination of Italian, English and charades. Both of the women were really friendly; when we told them about our trip and gave them one of our postcards, they excitedly came outside to see our bikes. They couldn't believe we were heading towards China and joked that when we finished going around the world we would have to come eat at their restaurant again (if we ever pass by, we will!) Sleepy, stuffed, and practically high from so much good food, we staggered back to our bikes and pedaled away.
The closer we get to Naples (or maybe just the further we go south) the more run down things are becoming. A few kilometers after lunch we cycled into a dirty industrial sprawl that continued more or less for the rest of our ride. As we pedaled along the increasingly garbage-filled roads we began to notice young women standing on the shoulders, each one impossibly wearing more makeup and less clothing than the last. Their outlandish outfits were pretty comical but for obvious reasons it wasn't much of a laughing matter.
Despite our high hopes of making it through the urban area to find a free-camp, we were still smack in the middle of dirty, bustling civilization when the roads turned steeply uphill and daylight began to run out. I was just beginning to mentally prepare for what could have been a difficult time finding a place to sleep when we saw a huge sign for a campsite! Because we are slightly over on our 25/day budget we normally would have passed this by, opting to hunt for a place to sleep, into the night if need be. Not this time though!
Two things saved our otherwise wonderful day from devolving into a bad one: 1) we've discussed this exact situation several times and decided that saving a few dollars is not worth the lost hours of rest and relaxation and 2) a few weeks ago an old college friend of Tara's, Cesar Weston, sent us a very generous donation out of the blue, with instructions to that we should use it if we encountered a bind on the open road. Bearing both of these things in mind we cheered excitedly and cycled the remaining 5km to what turned out to be a very interesting campsite.
The campsite was in the crater of a volcano! Before the sun set we wandered around the sulfurous Solfatara volcano, happily taking pictures and marveling at our good fortune. Thank you, Cesar!